Very near my home in Italy is the tiny and elevated village of Sant’ Anna di Stazzema. It is approached by a steep winding road that at times gives a dramatic view of the Mediterranean from Livorno in the south towards La Spezia in the north, a truly beautiful outlook.
This summer my eye was taken by a small poster advertising organ concerts in this village, part of a series started in 2007 and which revealed to me the tragic story of events there in August 1944. I attended the recital given on July 27th Edoardo Bellotti played on the tiny single manual instrument set on a small west end gallery. The instrument filled the church Edwardo playing a programme of Haydn Bach and Platti, but it was the circumstance of how this instrument comes to be there that must overwhelm all visitors and concert goers alike.
In August 1944 this almost inaccessible village was the scene of the murder of over 500 by the retreating German forces under orders to punish those thought to be hiding the Italian partisan forces also fighting the Germans. Almost the entire village, women children and old men were shot in the square in front of the church. Today on a wall beside the alter are poignant pictures of entire families wiped out that day.
How can such an event ever be commemorated? Well at Stazzema there is a very dignified visitor centre in the old school where the complete history of this part of the war story is told and it makes very difficult reading. The contrast between the peace and beauty of the region today and what took place in Stazzema and elsewhere in northern Italy in 1944 could not be greater.
There is also the little organ built by GhilardiOrgani of nearby Lucca. The ‘Organ of Peace’. A new organ should be an instrument of joy but try as I might I struggle to find the courage to celebrate the existence of this tiny gem. Music can be a source of great consolation and no doubt there will be much happiness brought to this place because of the music that can now fill the tiny church. But as the concert progressed I could not help thinking that it must be altogether better if this instrument had never come to be built and the events of 1944 could be reversed.
I do not think you will ever find an instrument that raises such dilemma as to its existence.
You can read more about this village, the organ and the events of 1944 here >> Amici dell’ Organo della Pace
I have had a passion for church organs since the tender age of 12. I own and run Viscount Organs with a close attention to the detail that musicians appreciate; and a clear understanding of the benefits of digital technology and keeping to the traditional and emotional elements of organ playing.